Academic Betreat – The Work of Identity

I had hoped that we would discuss identity at the Academic BEtreat and I wasn’t  disappointed. What I hadn’t expected was that my own identity would become such a focus of my learning on the BEtreat.

In the 21st century the work of building an identity is greater than ever before. Identity is a negotiated expression of the self and these days there are so many landscapes and communities in which to do this, particularly for the young. In the past learners did not have so many choices or spaces in which to negotiate their identity and there were not the same opportunities to change jobs. Once a blacksmith, always a blacksmith, just like your father and your grandfather before you.  These days we have to manage multiple trajectories all at once. It’s hard work.

But does this mean we have multiple identities or just one identity. In our discussions we were divided on this. Some felt that we have just one identity, but that we behave differently in different contexts and that some parts of your identity come to the surface in different situations. Others do not see that one identity, just parts of it. Others thought that we have multiple identities.

We recognized that roles and identities are not the same thing and decided that we ‘play a role’, which is prescribed and comes from outside yourself, but that we ‘are a person with an identity’. But of course a role can impact on your identity.

There are also times when we may need to re-negotiate our identity. One of the BEtreat participants illustrated this with her decision to become a Muslim, which she explained required considerable re-negotiation of her identity.

Finally we discussed the ‘dark night of identity’ which I have blogged about before. There are times when your whole identity falls apart, or what you believed you could do you find you can’t, but as a learner you have to hang on in there, even though at the time you might wonder if you will ever come out of the ‘dark night’. Of course there are some people who thrive on these situations, but as Etienne said, ‘Mastery of learning requires understanding the struggle of what it takes to become something’. It is when our identities are threatened that we learn who we are.

Although we have an identity in relation to many different contexts and we may have to renegotiate our identity in different contexts, the work of identity is in one person. If we look at identity as multiple identities, we underestimate how much work goes on to keep a sense of personhood.

In the 21st century building your identity is hard work.

The Academic BEtreat, gave me plenty of opportunity to think about my identity, who I am, how others might perceive me, the meaning of identity and it’s relation to my learning and learning in general.

3 thoughts on “Academic Betreat – The Work of Identity

  1. francesbell August 7, 2012 / 8:22 am

    Fascinating stuff Jenny. I am preparing to leave my current job (university lecturer) at the end of January 2013, and am currently thinking about (rather than planning) what I might do after that. I find that I am thinking about change of identity in deeper (reflecting about what I have learned and how that can figure in what comes next) and more trivial (what will the loss of my email address mean in practice) ways.
    So the ‘work of identity’ resonates for me.

  2. jennymackness August 7, 2012 / 2:49 pm

    Hi Frances – yes I find it fascinating too and I can see that the big change that is going to happen for you at the end of January will probably lead to quite a bit of focus on your identity, for you and even for others.

    I found the BEtreat wonderful for helping me to reflect on my identity, which was surprising because it was really action packed and very intense – not the kind of environment I would normally associate with reflection. I am still thinking about what it was about it that caused this.

    In terms of the loss of your email address – here are some of my experiences:

    – my own btopenworld email address sometimes goes into people’s spam boxes (i.e. those with an address) which can be a pain
    – but the upside is that the number of emails I receive is now manageable, whereas when I worked in HE I daily felt as though I was drowning in emails

    I can honestly say that there is only one thing that I miss about working in an HE institution and that is easy online access to the library – but with information becoming increasingly open this is less of a problem than it used to be. Apart from this there is nothing I miss. My friends are still my friends, I am stress free, I have fascinating work of my own choosing, I can manage my own time and take more holidays and I am so much fitter and more healthy. I feel all together a more ’rounded’ and ‘grounded’ person than I was when working in HE.

    Hope it all works out for you. Good to hear from you.


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